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'Their voices will not be silenced': LAUSD employee strike expected to move forward

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A potentially crippling strike by service workers that would shut down Los Angeles Unified School District campuses for three days -- March 21, 22, and 23 --  continues to loom large after a weekend full of both sides trading barbs, with little hope of any resolution being reached before the planned Tuesday walkout.

The workers, represented by Service Employees International Union Local 99, include bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians, special education assistants and other essential school workers. Members of United Teachers Los Angeles said they will refuse to cross the picket line if the strike takes place. 

L.A. Mayor Karen Bass authorized resources to support LAUSD families in the event schools are closed this week: 

LAUSD: Grab & Go Food Locations

  • Families may pick up meals for their students at Grab & Go sites on Tuesday, March 21 from 7:30 to 10:30 a.m. Six meals per student will be provided at pickup, to cover breakfast and lunch over three days.

Los Angeles Zoo: Free School Day Admission for LAUSD Students

  • During the event of a LAUSD strike, we're extending our LAUSD school group pricing to currently enrolled LAUSD students and their chaperones.

Los Angeles Public Library: In the event of school closures, libraries will be open normal business hours.

  • All LAUSD students already have an assigned Student Success Card to provide access to all the Library has to offer. 

Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks will offer a Special Edition After School Club Program at 30 recreation centers in the event of LAUSD school closures this week. The program will be free and available to elementary school students in 1st to 5th grades 7:30 a.m. - 6 p.m. March 21 - March 23.


On Sunday, with less than 48 hours until the planned walkout, the California Public Employment Relations Board rejected LAUSD's legal challenge to attempt to halt the strike. 

"The California Public Employment Relations Board has rejected LAUSD's last-ditch and meritless effort to request an injunction. On Friday, LAUSD filed charges claiming a strike by SEIU Local 99 members was unlawful," said a statement from Max Arias, the SEIU Local 99 Executive Director in a statement after the charges were rejected. "However, the Board's decision today confirms that workers have a right to protest over the threats and harassment waged against them by the school district. They will continue to move forward with plans to strike this week. Their voices will not be silenced."

In response, LAUSD issued a statement which refuted the claim that PERB had made a decision on the district's unfair practice charges. 

"PERB has denied Los Angeles Unified's request for injunctive relief, without prejudice, because the PERB Board did not find the extraordinary remedy of seeking injunctive relief to be met at this juncture. However, the PERB Board has directed their Office of General Counsel ("OGC") to expedite the processing of the District's underlying unfair practice charge against SEIU Local 99, which alleged that SEIU and its members are engaging in an unlawful 3-day strike.

Contrary to SEIU's assertions, the PERB OGC has not made a decision on Los Angeles Unified's unfair practice charge regarding the alleged illegality of SEIU's strike, and the District expects a decision from the PERB OGC as soon as Monday morning given the expedited processing direction from the PERB Board.

We continue to prepare for the unfortunate reality of school closures and remain available to negotiate a resolution to the outstanding issues, which we believe could be resolved if both sides entered into good faith discussions between now and Tuesday."

A group of district employees, parents and students took to the streets outside the district headquarters Saturday at 10 a.m. in front of the Los Angeles Unified School District Headquarters at 333 S. Beaudry Avenue to show support for LAUSD custodians, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, special education assistants, gardeners and teachers.  

Parents of school district students speculated Friday about what would happen if a strike occurred. 

"The superintendent would see how bad it would get in three days," said Frank Sopapunta, a parent outside of Coldwater Canyon Elementary School. "What would happen if it goes on a week or a month or however long they strike?"

It was unclear when, or if, the Service Employees International Local 99 union — representing roughly 30,000 cafeteria workers, bus drivers, custodians, special education assistants and other workers — would be back at the bargaining table with the district.

District Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said LAUSD officials are prepared to talk, and even potentially sweeten its most recent compensation and benefits offer, but union officials said they are waiting for a state mediator to schedule new talks, and aren't interested in hearing the district simply reiterate previous proposals the union has already rejected.

In a statement late Thursday, SEIU99 Executive Director Max Arias issued a statement accusing the district of misleading the public about the motivations behind the planned three-day strike.

"This strike is about respect for essential workers who have been treated as a second-class workforce by LAUSD for far too long," Arias said.

He accused the district of a pattern of harassment of union members and unfair labor practices.

Carvalho countered that the union is "simply refusing to negotiate," calling it "deeply surprising and disappointing that there is an unwillingness to do so."

The district was scheduled to engage in labor talks Friday — not with the SEIU but with United Teachers Los Angeles, the powerful teachers union which has said its 30,000-plus members will honor an SEIU picket line. UTLA is pushing for a 20% raise for its workers. SEIU is seeking roughly 30%, saying many of its workers are paid poverty wages of about $25,000 per year.

Los Angeles, CA - March 15: Thousands of LAUSD education workers calling on LAUSD Superintendent Alberto Carvalho to use the districts $4.9 billion in reserves to invest in staff, students, and communities rally at Grand Park in front of Los Angeles City Hall in Los Angeles on Wednesday, March 15, 2023. Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images

Next week's planned three-day walkout would be the first major labor disruption for the district since UTLA teachers went on strike for six days in 2019. That dispute ended thanks in part to intervention by then-Mayor Eric Garcetti, who helped spur labor talks at City Hall and broker a deal between the district and union.

Zach Seidl, a spokesman for Mayor Karen Bass, said in a statement Friday that Bass is "closely monitoring the situation and is engaged with all parties involved."

District officials said last week that Carvalho had made the SEIU Local 99 "one of the strongest offers ever proposed by a Los Angeles Unified superintendent."

According to the district, the offer included a 5% wage increase retroactive to July 2021, another 5% increase retroactive to July 2022 and another 5% increase effective July 2023, along with a 4% bonus in 2022-23 and a 5% bonus in 2023-24.

On Wednesday, Carvalho said at a news conference "that 15% plus 10% does not represent the end of the road, we have more resources and have indicated that to the union."

The union announced Wednesday at a rally at Grand Park that its strike will begin Tuesday. SEIU-represented workers voted in February to authorize the union to call a strike if negotiations failed.

Carvalho sent a message to district parents and staff Monday saying that a walkout by more than 60,000 workers would likely mean a closure of all schools in the district.

"We would simply have no way of ensuring a safe and secure environment where teaching can take place," Carvalho said. "We will give you as much advance notice as possible, but we encourage you to begin discussions with your employer, child care providers and others now."

Carvalho on Wednesday lamented the possibility of a strike that could shutter schools — on the heels of extended campus closures that impacted student learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"What are the consequences? The consequences are once again learning loss, deprivation of safety and security that schools provide to our kids, deprivation of food and nutrition that many of our kids depend on," Carvalho said. "I know that we focus our attention on the needs of the workforce. I need to focus my attention also primarily on the needs of our kids."

The unions have repeatedly said the district is sitting on a projected $4.9 billion reserve fund for 2022-23 that should be invested in workers and efforts to improve education through reduced class sizes and full staffing of all campuses.

"Workers are fed-up with living on poverty wages — and having their jobs threatened for demanding equitable pay. Workers are fed-up with the short staffing at LAUSD — and being harassed for speaking up," Arais said in a statement last week.

"We demand that LAUSD stop the unlawful activity, or workers are ready to take stronger action to protest these unfair practices. Canceling our contract is not a decision we make lightly. But it's clear that LAUSD does not respect or value the work of essential workers in our schools."

The superintendent said he remains hopeful a strike can be avoided, but if it happens, the district plans to provide food-distribution centers for students and provide educational packets students can work on at home during the walkout.

SEIU workers have been working without a contract since June 2020.

The union declared an impasse in negotiations in December, leading to the appointment of a state mediator.

In addition to salary demands, union officials have also alleged staffing shortages caused by an "over-reliance on a low-wage, part-time workforce." The union alleged shortages including:

  • insufficient teacher assistants, special education assistants and other instructional support to address learning loss and achievement gaps;
  • substandard cleaning and disinfecting at school campuses because of a lack of custodial staff;
  • jeopardized campus safety due to campus aides and playground supervisors being overburdened, and,
  • limited enrichment, after-school and parental engagement programs due to reduced work hours and lack of health care benefits for after-school workers and community representatives.

In the event that the strike does happen, without the sides able to reach an agreement prior to Tuesday's planned start, Mayor Karen Bass announced city support for parents struggling to find accommodations for their children. 

"In the event Los Angeles Unified Schools are closed, we are ready to provide safe places and meals so students are cared for and parents can keep working," said Mayor Karen Bass. "Schools are so much more than centers of education – they are a safety net for hundreds of thousands of Los Angeles families. We will make sure to do all we can to provide resources needed by the families of our city."

More than 20 recreation centers will serve as grab and go locations starting on Tuesday. 

Both the Los Angeles Zoo and Public Library will also hold special events free of charge for any LAUSD student.

For more information, visit LAUSD's website for parental support

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